When does one use 欲しがる instead of 欲しい? For example, in phrases like:


My incomplete understanding is that the がる form is more formal/polite, but it can only be used when the subject is not currently present in the room. The "subject in the room part" is the part I'm most unsure about, as it doesn't seem right.

Could I say this to my teacher?


To clarify the above sentence: what I'm trying to say is "Sensei, do you want me to eat vegetables?"


3 Answers 3


Japanese has a curious unwritten rule which states, in essence, that you cannot presume to know the intimate details of a third person's mental state. This is quite an unfamiliar concept in English-land:

○ 私【わたし】はDSが欲【ほ】しいです。 I want a DS.

× 息子【むすこ】はDSが欲【ほ】しいです。 My son wants a DS. (OK in English, NG in Japanese)

Even if your son has been begging you for the last six weeks straight to buy him one of them newfangled DS things (because all his friends have one, even Kentarō, and his parents never buy him anything) and even if you're 100% certain he wants a DS, you can't say this directly. The ~がる suffix is for getting around this problem.

息子【むすこ】はDS欲【ほ】しがっています。 My son wants a DS. (note the particle change!)

There are other ways to escape this problem without resorting to ~がる, each with slightly different nuances.

息子【むすこ】はDSが欲【ほ】しいと言【い】っています。 My son is saying he wants a DS.

息子【むすこ】はDSが欲【ほ】しいようですIt would seem my son wants a DS.

Now for your example:

Could I say this to my teacher?


No. ~がる is for a third person's emotions, so you cannot use it when you are talking directly to someone as here. But if we remove ~がる, we end up with this:

先生【せんせい】は野菜【やさい】を食【た】べて欲【ほ】しいですか。 Do you want (someone) to eat their vegetables?

I'm guessing this is not what you wanted to say. Remember that the ~て欲【ほ】しい construction refers not to something the subject (in this case, 先生【せんせい】) wants to do, but something the subject wants someone else to do for him/her. The agent (the entity actually performing the action) can be marked by に:

先生【せんせい】は生徒【せいと】に野菜【やさい】を食【た】べて欲【ほ】しいですか。 Do you want the students to eat their vegetables?

But I'm guessing you wanted to ask your teacher if he/she wants to eat some vegetables. In that case, you could use the ~たい form (again without ~がる).

先生【せんせい】は野菜【やさい】を食【た】べたいですか。 Do you want to eat some vegetables?

Although this is grammatically correct, in this case it is socially incorrect. It's inappropriate in Japanese to directly inquire as to the desires someone of a higher status like this. A better way to phrase this would be:

先生【せんせい】は野菜【やさい】はいかがでしょうか。 Would you like some vegetables?

先生【せんせい】は野菜【やさい】でよろしいでしょうか。 Would vegetables be OK? (suggested by Lukman; implies alternate choices besides vegetables)

  • This is what I had always learned about the 1st/3rd person usage as well. I was about to post this as a comment until I found the following example in the OSX dictionary under ほしい: 「彼は金も名誉も欲しくなかった|He had no desire for fame or fortune.」
    – istrasci
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:19
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    @istrasci: Without context we can't be sure, but the example sentence you mention most likely came from a book of some sort. Authors can break rules such as 欲しい/欲しがる because, after all, they have every right to step into the minds of their characters. I mentioned this in an answer to a question about ~げ, which has a function similar to ~がる. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:38
  • @derek great response. I edited my question to show what i was trying to say with my japanese sentence. It was asking if my teacher wanted me to eat vegetables. threw the てほしい in there to make it more complicated, but i don't think it changes garu usage Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 2:21
  • @Mark Hosang: In that case you could replace 生徒に in the above example with 私に: 先生は私に野菜を食べて欲しいんですか。 (using ん if you suspect your teacher wants you to eat the vegetables but hasn't said so directly). This would get the meaning across, but it might not be the best sentence for the situation. What was the conversation like up to this point? Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 12:27
  • @Derek heys btw you've mentioned that がる is used on a third-person and not a second-person, and ほしい and たい is used only on the first-person. So what structure would the sentence be if i'm telling someone that he (second-person) likes something? according to the first rule, i couldn't use ほしがる, but according to the second rule, i can't use ほしい
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 18:31

Quoting an answer from rintaun to one of my own questions:

~がる is a suffix for representing a third party's apparent emotion.

So I would say the major difference between 欲しがる and 欲しい is that while 欲しい is the state of having desire, 欲しがる is the act of expressing it and making it apparent, like making intense face, licking your drooling lips etc.

EDIT: To address the example sentence 先生は野菜を食べて欲しがっていますか?, casting the lack of keigo aside, I would say the question is only okay to ask a third person, like for example when your teacher is visiting your home and you ask your wife, "Does Mr. Smith look like he wants to eat vegetables?". You wouldn't ask that same question of the actual person, "do you look like you want to eat vegetable?" because that would seem like asking him to look at a mirror (i.e. sarcasm). You would simply ask "do you want to eat vegetables?", 先生は野菜を食べて欲しいですか? However, considering how Japanese respects teachers, that would still be too blunt, so you would need a more considerately crafted question like "Would vegetable be fine with you?", 先生は野菜でよろしいでしょうか?

  • 2
    heys btw if 食べて欲しい means "[subject] wants someone (secondary object) to eat something (primary object)", wouldn't 先生は野菜を食べて欲しいですか mean "does teacher want someone to eat something?" instead of "does teacher want to eat something ?" (and thus the second part of your answer is incorrect)? ps: just wanted to double-check
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 17:59

Whenever you're talking about someone else's internal feelings, you use 欲しがっている rather than 欲しい, as Derek Schaab beautifully described in his answer. To add a little more background, there are other words that this is done for other than 欲しい:

[verb]-たがる (want to do some verb)
痛がる hurt/painful
嬉しがる happy/glad


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